How to go to Law School for free

by Camilla Barker 15th February 2019

With total student debts in the United States at an all-time high of nearly $1.5 trillion, the last thing any potential law student wants to do is accumulate more of their own.

Yet last year, the Law School Admission Council (the organization that administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)) reported that the number of law school applicants was surging.

The reason for this? It’s anyone’s guess.

But what may be responsible is the fact that students are finding ways to reduce the overall cost of law school. Some are even finding ways to get it for free.

How? Scholarships.

In this article, we delve into the world of law school scholarships and outline ways you could save yourself over a quarter of a million dollars in tuition, living costs, and other fees.

On the hunt for scholarships

What is the first thing that springs to mind when you think about ways to lower the cost of law school? If it is “scholarships” then it seems you are not alone.

According to Google statistics, up to 10,000 people search for “law school scholarships” every month, and most of those searches – unsurprisingly – are coming from New York, the state that is home to two of the schools occupying the top three spots in the most expensive law schools list for 2018 (the schools are Columbia, New York University, and the University of Pennsylvania, just in case you were curious).

Full scholarships (which cover tuition as well as room and board) could be worth up to $90,000 a year, which is a staggering sum for most students. With the average law school degree program taking three years to complete, landing one of these scholarships could represent a whopping $270,000investment in your education. Partial scholarships are also worth a look in: itis not unusual to find scholarships from $1000 to $50,000 a year (andscholarships at the higher end may even cover the full costs of law school insome states).

There’s no wonder, then, that law school scholarships are so competitive.

But don’t be discouraged by the competition. Every year, the students who land these scholarships seem to be shocked that they have done, which suggests that there are no hard and fast rules for who tends to win them.

What types of scholarships are available?

When it comes to law school, some scholarships are awarded for academic merit and some are awarded for non-academic reasons, such as having demonstrated a long-standing commitment to social justice or promising to work in the public sector for a certain amount of time after graduation. It may be possible to get needs-based scholarships, too.

We’ll look at all three.

Academic scholarships

Academic scholarships, self-evidently, are awarded for academic merit. But what kind of academic merit does an applicant have to demonstrate? Are schools only concerned about your GPA from college, or are there other types of testing at play? Well, to give a typical lawyer’s answer: “It depends.”

Some law schools are swayed primarily by your college GPA. It’s a number that represents your performance in a guided learning program (similar to what you will get at law school) and it shows what you can achieve over the long-term, which for some admissions personnel is worth morethan a number that shows how you performed on one day in a specialized test.

While the exact GPA required does vary from program to program (with some not requiring you achieve any particular number at all), it stands to reason that the higher your GPA the better your chances of securing those elusive scholarships.

If you don’t have a brilliant GPA, though, don’t despair. It is possible to get a scholarship at a great law school with an average GPA, but the reality is that you will need a good score on the LSAT to compensate for that. Law school is demanding, and the schools need to know that you are capable of keeping up with the heavy academic workload before they dishout the scholarships.

The LSAT (which as we mentioned above stands for “LawSchool Admission Test”) is a standardized test that assesses your competence in several areas deemed necessary for the successful study of law. It tests your reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning.

If these terms seem like gobbledygook to you at themoment, again, don’t despair. There are heaps of resources out there that canhelp you to prepare for the LSAT, from free materials from toponline educators to the more expensive private tutoring programsoffered by individuals and companies across America.

Non-academic scholarships

If academics are not strictly your thing (and you’re still convinced that a law career is right for you), it might be worth looking at scholarships that are awarded for non-academic pursuits.

Many schools offer prestigious scholarships for students that are interested in public service. The University of Washington School of Law, for example, offers a top annual award of $50,000 through its William H.Gates Public Service Law Program Scholarship. Similarly, the CaliforniaBar Foundation makes available a range of scholarships, fellowships,and grants annually for students that are committed to social progress andequality.

It is also possible to secure funding based on your ethnicity or racial background. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, for example, offers scholarships to students of Hispanic/Latino background. Ina similar vein, the J. L. Turner Legal Associations and Susman Godfrey LLP offer the JLTLA Marie Trahan/Susman Godfrey Scholarship to African-American students residing in Texas.

Similar scholarship schemes are available for students based on their gender, sexual orientation, disability status, religion,political affiliation, or their military commitments.

If you are interested in securing a non-academic scholarship, it is worth making a list of all your characteristics and interests. If you conduct a search for scholarships in all of them, you may be surprised at what you find.

Needs-based scholarships

The final type of scholarship we consider here is the needs-based scholarship. In many ways, needs-based scholarships are what they say on the tin: they are scholarships that are based on the financial needs of the applicant, not their academic merits or backgrounds and commitments.

That being said, there can be a lot more needs-based scholarships that meets the eye, and so if you are considering applying for one, it is best to spend some time researching your options. Rarely is it ever as simple as what you have (or, more to the point, don’t have) in your bank account.

Most law schools have what they call “packaging parameters,” which is just a fancy way of saying that they offer different types and levels of support to students of different financial backgrounds.

Yale Law School, for example, is very open about howthey calculate financial aid. Their calculation takes into account:

  • the cost of attendance (tuition, other fees, health insurance, and living expenses)
  • any student, parental, or spousal contributions (income, assets, and other resources)
  • any available student loans
  • any available scholarships, fellowships, or grant programs

YLS is just one of many schools that also have other financial assistance programs available, such as laptop purchase programs, emergency grants, and even support for dependents (spouses or children).

The bottom line

Law degrees are expensive, and unfortunately the year-on-year increases in tuition fees and living costs show no signs of abating.

But students should not be deterred by this.

The vast majority of law schools in the USA, if not all of them, advertise some form of scholarship or financial assistance program for their new and existing students. Outside of the law schools themselves, there are a considerable number of foundations, charities, political groups, private donors, and other sources available to help cover the costs, with grants ranging from $1000 to over $150,000 annually.

If you are looking at ways to go to law school for free, scholarships should be your main focus. With so many available, it stands to reason that you should find something to suit your individual circumstances.

My advice is this: Do your research and make sure to get help if you need it. Law school may be one of the biggest investments you make in your life, but if you work hard it may well prove to be the most rewarding one.

Camilla Barker - author at Eduvenio

By Camilla Barker

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